Escape from Freedom by Erich Fromm - Read Online
Escape from Freedom
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Why do people choose authoritarianism over freedom? The classic study of the psychological appeal of fascism by a New York Times–bestselling author.
 The pursuit of freedom has indelibly marked Western culture since Renaissance humanism and Protestantism began the fight for individualism and self-determination. This freedom, however, can make people feel unmoored, and is often accompanied by feelings of isolation, fear, and the loss of self, all leading to a desire for authoritarianism, conformity, or destructiveness. It is not only the question of freedom that makes Fromm’s debut book a timeless classic. In this examination of the roots of Nazism and fascism in Europe, Fromm also explains how economic and social constraints can also lead to authoritarianism.

By the author of The Sane Society and The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, this is a fascinating examination of the anxiety that underlies our darkest impulses, an enlightening volume perfect for readers of Eric Hoffer or Hannah Arendt.
 This ebook features an illustrated biography of Erich Fromm including rare images and never-before-seen documents from the author’s estate.   
Published: Open Road Media an imprint of Open Road Integrated Media on
ISBN: 9781480402010
List price: $17.99
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Escape from Freedom

Erich Fromm

Contents

Foreword

Foreword II

I   Freedom—A Psychological Problem?

II   The Emergence of the Individual and the Ambiguity of Freedom

III Freedom in the Age of the Reformation

1. Medieval Background and the Renaissance

2. The Period of the Reformation

IV The Two Aspects of Freedom for Modern Man

V   Mechanisms of Escape

1. Authoritarianism 

2. Destructiveness

3. Automaton Conformity

VI Psychology of Nazism

VII Freedom and Democracy

1. The Illusion of Individuality

2. Freedom and Spontaneity

Appendix: Character and the Social Process

Index

Notes

A Biography of Erich Fromm

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?

If I am for myself only, what am I?

If not now—when?

Talmudic Saying

Mishnah, Abot

Neither heavenly nor earthly, neither mortal nor immortal have we created thee, so that thou mightest be free according to thy own will and honor, to be thy own creator and builder. To thee alone we gave growth and development depending on thy own free will. Thou bearest in thee the germs of a universal life.

Pico della Mirandola

Oratio de Hominis Dignitate

Nothing then is unchangeable but the inherent and inalienable rights of man.

Thomas Jefferson

Foreword

This book is part of a broad study concerning the character structure of modern man and the problems of the interaction between psychological and sociological factors which I have been working on for several years and completion of which would have taken considerably longer. Present political developments and the dangers which they imply for the greatest achievements of modern culture—individuality and uniqueness of personality—made me decide to interrupt the work on the larger study and concentrate on one aspect of it which is crucial for the cultural and social crisis of our day: the meaning of freedom for modern man. My task in this book would be easier could I refer the reader to the completed study of the character structure of man in our culture, since the meaning of freedom can be fully understood only on the basis of an analysis of the whole character structure of modern man. As it is, I have had to refer frequently to certain concepts and conclusions without elaborating on them as fully as I would have done with more scope. In regard to other problems of great importance, I have often been able to mention them only in passing and sometimes not at all. But I feel that the psychologist should offer what he has to contribute to the understanding of the present crisis without delay, even though he must sacrifice the desideratum of completeness.

Pointing out the significance of psychological considerations in relation to the present scene does not imply, in my opinion, an overestimation of psychology. The basic entity of the social process is the individual, his desires and fears, his passions and reason, his propensities for good and for evil. To understand the dynamics of the social process we must understand the dynamics of the psychological processes operating within the individual, just as to understand the individual we must see him in the context of the culture which molds him. It is the thesis of this book that modern man, freed from the bonds of pre-individualistic society, which simultaneously gave him security and limited him, has not gained freedom in the positive sense of the realization of his individual self; that is, the expression of his intellectual, emotional and sensuous potentialities. Freedom, though it has brought him independence and rationality, has made him isolated and, thereby, anxious and powerless. This isolation is unbearable and the alternatives he is confronted with are either to escape from the burden of his freedom into new dependencies and submission, or to advance to the full realization of positive freedom which is based upon the uniqueness and individuality of man. Although this book is a diagnosis rather than a prognosis—an analysis rather than a solution—its results have a bearing on our course of action. For, the understanding of the reasons for the totalitarian flight from freedom is a premise for any action which aims at the victory over the totalitarian forces.

I forego the pleasure it would be to thank all those friends, colleagues and students to whom I am indebted for their stimulation and constructive criticisms of my own thinking. The reader will see in the footnotes reference to the authors of whom I feel most indebted for the ideas expressed in this book. However, I wish to acknowledge specifically my gratitude to those who have contributed directly to the completion of this volume. In the first place, I wish to thank Miss Elizabeth Brown, who both by her suggestions and her criticisms has been of invaluable help in the organization of this volume. Furthermore, my thanks are due to Mr. T. Woodhouse for his great help in editing the manuscript and to Dr. A. Seidemann for his help in the philosophical problems touched upon in this book.

I wish to thank the following publishers for the privilege of using extensive passages from their publications: Board of Christian Education, Philadelphia, excerpts from Institutes of the Christian Religion, by John Calvin, translated by John Allen; the Columbia Studies in History, Economics, and Public Law (Columbia University Press), New York, excerpts from Social Reform and the Reformation, by Jacob S. Schapiro; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Mich., excerpts from The Bondage of the Will, by Martin Luther, translated by Henry Cole; Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York, excerpts from Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, by R. H. Tawney; Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, excerpts from Mein Kampf, by Adolf Hitler; the Macmillan Company, New York, excerpts from The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, by Jacob Burckhardt.

E. F.

Foreword II

Almost twenty-five years have passed since the first edition of this book was published. The twenty-four editions which have been published since then have been read by professionals, laymen, and especially by students, and I am happy that this publication in the Avon Library will make it more easily available to many more readers.

Escape from Freedom is an analysis of the phenomenon of man’s anxiety engendered by the breakdown of the Medieval World in which, in spite of many dangers, he felt himself secure and safe. After centuries of struggles, man succeeded in building an undreamed-of wealth of material goods; he built democratic societies in parts of the world, and recently was victorious in defending himself against new totalitarian schemes; yet, as the analysis in Escape from Freedom attempts to show, modern man still is anxious and tempted to surrender his freedom to dictators of all kinds, or to lose it by transforming himself into a small cog in the machine, well fed, and well clothed, yet not a free man but an automaton.

After twenty-five years, the question is in order whether the social and psychological trends on which the analysis of this book was based have continued to exist, or whether they have tended to diminish. There can be no doubt that in this last quarter of a century the reasons for man’s fear of freedom, for his anxiety and willingness to become an automaton, have not only continued but have greatly increased. The most important event in this respect is the discovery of atomic energy, and its possible use as a weapon of destruction. Never before in history has the human race been confronted with total annihilation, least of all through the work of its own hands. Yet only a relatively short time ago, during the Cuban crisis, hundreds of millions of human beings in America and in Europe for a few days did not know whether they and their children were ever to see another day in spite of the fact that since then attempts have been made to reduce the danger of a similar crisis, the destructive weapons still exist, the buttons are there, the men charged with pushing them when necessity seems to command it are there, anxiety and helplessness are still there.

Aside from the nuclear revolution, the cybernetic revolution has developed more rapidly than many could have foreseen twenty-five years ago. We are entering the second industrial revolution in which not only human physical energy—man’s hands and arms as it were—but also his brain and his nervous reactions are being replaced by machines. In the most developed industrial countries such as the United States, new anxieties develop because of the threat of increasing structural unemployment; man feels still smaller when confronted with the phenomenon not only of giant enterprises, but of an almost self-regulating world of computers which think much faster, and often more correctly, than he does. Another danger has increased, rather than diminished: the population explosion. Here, too, one of the products of human progress, the achievements of medicine, have produced such an increase of population, especially in the underdeveloped countries, that the increase in material production can hardly keep pace with the increasing number of people.

The giant forces in society and the danger for man’s survival have increased in these twenty-five years, and hence man’s tendency to escape from freedom. Yet there are also hopeful signs. The dictatorships of Hitler and Stalin have disappeared. In the Soviet bloc, especially in the smaller states, although they have remained ultra-conservative and totalitarian, a trend for increasing liberalization is clearly visible. The United States has shown itself resistant against all totalitarian attempts to gain influence. Important steps toward the political and social liberation of the Negroes have been taken, all the more impressive because of the courage and discipline of those in the forefront of the fighting for Negro freedom—both Negroes and whites. All these facts show that the drive for freedom inherent in human nature, while it can be corrupted and suppressed, tends to assert itself again and again. Yet all these reassuring facts must not deceive us into thinking that the dangers of escape from freedom are not as great, or even greater today than they were when this book was first published.

Does this prove that theoretical insights of social psychology are useless, as far as their effect on human development is concerned? It is hard to answer this question convincingly, and the writer in this field may be unduly optimistic about the social value of his own and his colleagues’ work. But with all due respect to this possibility, my belief in the importance of awareness of individual and social reality has, if anything, grown. I can briefly state why this is so. It becomes ever increasingly clear to many students of man and of the contemporary scene that the crucial difficulty with which we are confronted lies in the fact that the development of man’s intellectual capacities has far outstripped the development of his emotions. Man’s brain lives in the twentieth century; the heart of most men lives still in the Stone Age. The majority of men have not yet acquired the maturity to be independent, to be rational, to be objective. They need myths and idols to endure the fact that man is all by himself, that there is no authority which gives meaning to life except man himself. Man represses the irrational passions of destructiveness, hate, envy, revenge; he worships power, money, the sovereign state, the nation; while he pays lip service to the teachings of the great spiritual leaders of the human race, those of Buddha, the prophets, Socrates, Jesus, Mohammed—he has transformed these teachings into a jungle of superstition and idol-worship. How can mankind save itself from destroying itself by this discrepancy between intellectual-technical overmaturity and emotional backwardness?

As far as I can see there is only one answer: the increasing awareness of the most essential facts of our social existence, an awareness sufficient to prevent us from committing irreparable follies, and to raise to some small extent our capacity for objectivity and reason. We can not hope to overcome most follies of the heart and their detrimental influence on our imagination and thought in one generation; maybe it will take a thousand years until man has lifted himself from a pre-human history of hundreds of thousands of years. At this crucial moment, however, a modicum of increased insight—objectivity—can make the difference between life and death for the human race. For this reason the development of a scientific and dynamic social psychology is of vital importance. Progress in social psychology is necessary to counteract the dangers which arise from the progress in physics and medicine.

No one could be more aware of the inadequacy of our knowledge than the students in this field. It is my hope that books such as this may stimulate students to devote their energies to this field by showing them the need for this type of investigation, and at the same time that we are lacking almost everything but the foundations.

I might be expected to answer one more question; should I make any extensive revisions in my theoretical conclusions after twenty-five years? I must confess that I believe that all essential elements of this analysis are still valid; that what they need is expansion and interpretation in many directions. I have tried to do some of this work myself since I wrote Escape from Freedom. In The Sane Society I amplified and deepened the analysis of contemporary society; in Man for Himself I developed the theme of ethical norms based on our knowledge of man, rather than on authority and revelation; in The Art of Loving I analyzed the various aspects of love; in The Heart of Man I followed up the roots of destructiveness and hate; in Beyond the Chains of Illusion I analyzed the relationship between the thoughts of the two great theorists of a dynamic science of man: Marx and Freud.

I hope that this edition of Escape from Freedom will continue to contribute to increasing the interest in the field of dynamic social psychology, and to stimulate younger people to devote their interest to a field which is full of intellectual excitement, precisely because it is only at its beginning.

Erich Fromm

I   FREEDOM—A PSYCHOLOGICAL PROBLEM?

Modern European and American history is centered around the effort to gain freedom from the political, economic, and spiritual shackles that have bound men. The battles for freedom were fought by the oppressed, those who wanted new liberties, against those who had privileges to defend. While a class was fighting for its own liberation from domination, it believed itself to be fighting for human freedom as such and thus was able to appeal to an ideal, to the longing for freedom rooted in all who are oppressed. In the long and virtually continuous battle for freedom, however, classes that were fighting against oppression at one stage sided with the enemies of freedom when victory was won and new privileges were to be defended.

Despite many reverses, freedom has won battles. Many died in those battles in the conviction that to die in the struggle against oppression was better than to live without freedom. Such a death was the utmost assertion of their individuality. History seemed to be proving that it was possible for man to govern himself, to make decisions for himself, and to think and feel as he saw fit. The full expression of man’s potentialities seemed to be the goal toward which social development was rapidly approaching. The principles of economic liberalism, political democracy, religious autonomy, and individualism in personal life, gave expression to the longing for freedom, and at the same time seemed to bring mankind nearer to its realization. One tie after another was severed. Man had overthrown the domination of nature and made himself her master; he had overthrown the domination of the Church and the domination of the absolutist state. The abolition of external domination seemed to be not only a necessary but also a sufficient condition to attain the cherished goal: freedom of the individual.

The First World War was regarded by many as the final struggle and its conclusion the ultimate victory for freedom. Existing democracies appeared strengthened, and new ones replaced old monarchies. But only a few years elapsed before new systems emerged which denied everything that men believed they had won in centuries of struggle. For the essence of these new systems, which effectively took command of man’s entire social and personal life, was the submission of all but a handful of men to an authority over which they had no control.

At first many found comfort in the thought that the victory of the authoritarian system was due to the madness of a few individuals and that their madness would lead to their downfall in due time. Others smugly believed that the Italian people, or the Germans, were lacking in a sufficiently long period of training in democracy, and that therefore one could wait complacently until they had reached the political maturity of the Western democracies. Another common illusion, perhaps the most dangerous of all, was that men like Hitler had gained power over the vast apparatus of the state through nothing but cunning and trickery, that they and their satellites ruled merely by sheer force; that the whole population was only the will-less object of betrayal and terror.

In the years that have elapsed since, the fallacy of these arguments has become apparent. We have been compelled to recognize that millions in Germany were as eager to surrender their freedom as their fathers were to fight for it; that instead of wanting freedom, they sought for ways of escape from it; that other millions were indifferent and did not believe the defense of freedom to be worth fighting and dying for. We also recognize that the crisis of democracy is not a peculiarly Italian or German problem, but one confronting every modern state. Nor does it matter which symbols the enemies of human freedom choose: freedom is not less endangered if attacked in the name of anti-Fascism than in that of outright Fascism.¹ This truth has been so forcefully formulated by John Dewey that I express the thought in his words: The serious threat to our democracy, he says, is not the existence of foreign totalitarian states. It is the existence within our own personal attitudes and within our own institutions of conditions which have given a victory to external authority, discipline, uniformity and dependence upon The Leader in foreign countries. The battlefield is also accordingly here—within ourselves and our institutions.²

If we want to fight Fascism we must understand it. Wishful thinking will not help us. And reciting optimistic formulae will prove to be as inadequate and useless as the ritual of an Indian rain dance.

In addition to the problem of the economic and social conditions which have given rise to Fascism, there is a human problem which needs to be understood. It is the purpose of this book to analyze those dynamic factors in the character structure of modern man, which made him want to give up freedom in Fascist countries and which so widely prevail in millions of our own people.

These are the outstanding questions that arise when we look at the human aspect of freedom, the longing for submission, and the lust for power: What is freedom as a human experience? Is the desire for freedom something inherent in human nature? Is it an identical experience regardless of what kind of culture a person lives in, or is it something different according to the degree of individualism reached in a particular society? Is freedom only the absence of external pressure or is it also the presence of something—and if so, of what? What are the social and economic factors in society that make for the striving for freedom? Can freedom become a burden, too heavy for man to bear, something he tries to escape from? Why then is it that freedom is for many a cherished goal and for others a threat?

Is there not also, perhaps, besides an innate desire for freedom, an instinctive wish for submission? If there is not, how can we account for the attraction which submission to a leader has for so many today? Is submission always to an overt authority, or is there also submission to internalized authorities, such as duty or conscience, to inner compulsions or to anonymous authorities like public opinion? Is there a hidden satisfaction in submitting, and what is its essence?

What is it that creates in men an insatiable lust for power? Is it the strength of their vital energy—or is it a fundamental weakness and inability to experience life spontaneously and lovingly? What are the psychological conditions that make for the strength of these strivings? What are the social conditions upon which such psychological conditions in turn are based?

Analysis of the human aspect of freedom and of authoritarianism forces us to consider a general problem, namely, that of the role which psychological factors play as active forces in the social process; and this eventually leads to the problem of the interaction of psychological, economic, and ideological factors in the social process. Any attempt to understand the attraction which Fascism exercises upon great nations compels us to recognize the role of psychological factors. For we are dealing here with a political system which, essentially, does not appeal to rational forces of self-interest, but which arouses and mobilizes diabolical forces in man which we had believed to be nonexistent, or at least to have died out long ago. The familiar picture of man in the last centuries was one of a rational being whose actions were determined by his self-interest and the ability to act according to it. Even writers like Hobbes, who recognized lust for power and hostility as driving forces in man, explained the existence of these forces as a logical result of self-interest: since men are equal and thus have the same wish for happiness, and since there is not enough wealth to satisfy them all to the same extent, they necessarily fight against each other and want power to secure the future enjoyment of what they have at present. But Hobbes’s picture became outmoded. The more the middle class succeeded in breaking down the power of the former political or religious rulers, the more men succeeded in mastering nature, and the more millions of individuals became economically independent, the more did one come to believe in a rational world and in man as an essentially rational being. The dark and diabolical forces of man’s nature were relegated to the Middle Ages and to still earlier periods of history, and they were explained by lack of knowledge or by the cunning schemes of deceitful kings and priests.

One looked back upon these periods as one might at a volcano which for a long time has ceased to be a menace. One felt secure and confident that the achievements of modern democracy had wiped out all sinister forces; the world looked bright and safe like the well-lit streets of a modern city. Wars were supposed to be the last relics of older times and one needed just one more war to end war; economic crises were supposed to be accidents, even though these accidents continued to happen with a certain regularity.

When Fascism came into power, most people were unprepared, both theoretically and practically. They were unable to believe that man could exhibit such propensities for evil, such lust for power, such disregard for the rights of the weak, or such yearning for submission. Only a few had been aware of the rumbling of the volcano preceding the outbreak. Nietzsche had disturbed the complacent optimism of the nineteenth century; so had Marx in a different way. Another warning had come somewhat later from Freud. To be sure, he and most of his disciples had only a very naive notion of what goes on in society, and most of his applications of psychology to social problems were misleading constructions; yet, by devoting his interest to the phenomena of individual emotional and mental disturbances, he led us to the top of the volcano and made us look into the boiling crater.

Freud went further than anybody before him in directing attention to the observation and analysis of the irrational and unconscious forces which determine parts of human behavior. He and his followers in modern psychology not only uncovered the irrational and unconscious sector of man’s nature, the existence of which had been neglected by modern rationalism; he also showed that these irrational phenomena followed certain laws and therefore could be understood rationally. He taught us to understand the language of dreams and somatic symptoms as well as the irrationalities in human behavior. He discovered that these irrationalities as well as the whole character structure of an individual were reactions to the influences exercised by the outside world and particularly by those occurring in early childhood.

But Freud was so imbued with the spirit of his culture that he could not go beyond certain limits which were set by it. These very limits became limitations for his understanding even of the sick individual; they handicapped his understanding of the normal individual and of the irrational phenomena operating in social life.

Since this book stresses the role of psychological factors in the whole of the social process and since this analysis is based on some of the fundamental discoveries of Freud—particularly those concerning the operation of unconscious forces in man’s character and their dependence on external influences—I think it will be helpful to the reader to know from the outset some of the general principles of our approach, and also the main differences between this approach and the classical Freudian concepts.³

Freud accepted the traditional belief in a basic dichotomy between man and society, as well as the traditional doctrine of the evilness of human nature. Man, to him, is fundamentally antisocial. Society must domesticate him, must allow some direct satisfaction of biological—and hence, ineradicable—drives; but for the most part society must refine and adroitly check man’s basic impulses. In consequence of this suppression of natural impulses by society something miraculous happens: the suppressed drives turn into strivings that are culturally valuable and thus become the human basis for culture. Freud chose the word sublimation for this strange transformation from suppression into civilized behavior. If the amount of suppression is greater than the capacity for sublimation, individuals become neurotic and it is necessary to allow the lessening of suppression. Generally, however, there is a reverse relation between satisfaction of man’s drives and culture: the more suppression, the more culture (and the more danger of neurotic disturbances). The relation of the individual to society in Freud’s theory is essentially a static one: the individual remains virtually the same and becomes changed only in so far as society exercises greater pressure on his natural drives (and thus enforces more sublimation) or allows more satisfaction (and thus sacrifices culture).

Like the so-called basic instincts of man which